Mexican Drug Cartels Using U.S. Youth for Operations ‘Not Something New,’ Arizona Mayor Says

By Penny Starr | April 12, 2011 | 4:37 PM EDT

Mayor Arturo Garino, Democrat mayor of Nogales, Arizona, said at an event on April 11, 2011 in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. border with Mexico is 'not a war zone' and that the Obama administration is doing a good job keeping the border secure. ( Starr)

( - Arturo Garino, a Democrat who was elected mayor of Nogales, Ariz., in November, 2010, says there's nothing new about Mexican drug smugglers using U.S. juveniles for their operations.

He made the comment in response to a question about recent cases in Texas involving American teenagers kidnapped on U.S. soil and taken back to Mexico for ransom or recruitment.

“That part about using juveniles for their transportation of drugs – U.S. citizens – that’s been used since I was a deputy back in the ‘80s,” Garino said when asked by about the Texas cases.

The practice was popular, said Garino, because it was believed that the juveniles, if apprehended, might escape criminal charges and jail sentences.

“But that’s not a new thing,” he said.

Garino also said that schools are using the “Operation Detour” program to educate students about the drug cartels, which he said are much different from the drug dealers who tried to recruit teens two decades ago when he worked in law enforcement.

“It’s not something new, okay, they’ve been using teenagers since I was a cop in the ‘80s,” Garino said. “But back then the cartels weren’t cartels like they are now. This is a different ball game. Back then, it was one drug dealer in Mexico and a bunch of his friends doing it.”

Garino made his remarks at a conference on Monday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the liberal think tank NDN and its affiliate, The New Policy Institute. In his talk, he spoke about how a 21st century border is "essential to prosperity in both the U.S. and Mexico,” according to the conference program.

Garino was told by panel moderator Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at MIT and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama’s Commissioner at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that the mayor had a “captive audience” of the “Democratic piece of the Washington power elite” at the conference.

Garino responded by criticizing Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s border policies.

According to Garino, Babeu “lives 100 miles north of Nogales” and needs “to stop saying that he’s a border sheriff and we need him to do his work in his county, in Pinal County, and stay away from Santa Cruz County.”  The City of Nogales is in Santa Cruz County.

Garino said it was his first visit to Washington, D.C., and he asked participants at the event to help him spread the word about how safe cities on the U.S.-Mexico border are today.

Garino did not mention a Feb. 9, 2011 letter he drafted and recruited with two other Arizona mayors that asked Sheriff Babeu to “not cultivate a culture of fear” and claimed Babeu’s remarks were “hurting the economies of border cities.”

The letter was obtained by the Arizona Daily Star, which reported on it on Feb. 14.

The media also covered Babeu’s response to the Garino letter, which was made available to news outlets. In his response, Babeu cited statistics that detail the increase in crimes and drug confiscations in Pinal County.

“The threat from an unsecured border is real, where 241,000 illegals were apprehended last year by the border patrol and an additional 400,000 got away just in Arizona alone,” Babeu wrote in his letter. “These are failing grades by anyone's score card.”

Simon Rosenberg is the founder and president of the liberal think tank NDN, which hosted the event to promote commerce between the U.S. and Latin America, including Mexico. ( Starr)

“On the human smuggling side of this issue, my deputies have acted with great heroism and risked their own lives to save the lives of illegals who have been abandoned by their ‘coyotes,’” Babeu said.

He said one deputy risked his life to save five Hondurans who had fallen into a deep canal. Five others drowned. Babeu said another case involved a family with two young children who were abandoned by coyotes and were forced to drink their own urine for two days in order to survive in the desert.

“Feel free to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ of Janet Napolitano, Dennis Burke and Barak Obama all day long, yet this threat to America remains, until our border is secured,” Babeu wrote.

Participants at Monday’s NDN event, however, painted a different picture of life in border communities.

“To call it out of control, no it’s not,” Garino said. “It’s not out of control. It’s not a war zone. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s a war zone.”

“The work that’s been done there by Homeland Security is very good work,” Garino said. “All the agencies that are working together are doing a good job.”

Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, said the situation along the southwest border with Mexico has actually improved.

“We’ve seen an incredible drop of crime along most of the border cities,” Rosenberg said. “Some of the safest cities in America now are cities along the border with Mexico.”

“There has been virtually no spillover effects from what’s happening in Mexico in the United States,” Rosenberg said, calling the cases of kidnappings in Texas “isolated incidents.”

“There is not systemic evidence whatsoever that there’s been any kind of spillover into the United States,” Rosenberg said.